Kentucky rancher introduces consumers to a new food and a new way to think about farming
Curious alpacas peered at their equally curious visitors, and the smell of salt from alpaca hides and fresh meat lingered in the air in Richmond, Kentucky, at River Hill Ranch’s farm-to-table dinner last weekend.
“Farming has become [my family’s] service to our community and a way of life that has provided blessings my much higher paying desk job would’ve never yielded,” said River Hill owner and Air Force veteran Alvina Maynard. “I’m grateful to be able to share share our way of life with everyone at the dinner.”
Culminating several years of hard work launching her ranch, Maynard’s dinner was pulled off thanks to her partnership with local gourmet chef Robert Weickel of Table Three Ten, who approached the dinner with Maynard using all local Kentucky Proud ingredients including local wine. He quipped that the only part of dinner he was not able to locally source was the salt. It was this love for all things local and all things sustainable that brought Maynard and Weickel together.
“I really connected with Alvina because her way of farming resonated with me in that everything gets used; nothing goes to waste,” he said. “Then of course the product itself was amazing.”
Weickel who was first introduced to alpaca meat while working at Table 310 in downtown Lexington said the consensus on flavor among the staff was that alpaca tasted like something between beef and lamb, but the “color of the meat, the marbling, the way it cooks, texture, were similar to elk or antelope; deep red, and very lean.”
“Though unlike my experiences with Antelope and Elk, the Alapca had no metalic taste at medium rare or even raw,” Chef Rober Weickel said.
And raw found its place as one of the menu’s five decadent courses that included seeded mushroom bread, were potato skins dripping with crema, bolognese and earthy ground alpaca fat, platters of alpaca bresaola and coppa, brochettes over an open fire, tartare prepared with fenugreek, tallow, whey, chow-chow, mustard kimchi and corn crackers.
The main course was seasonal squash, alpaca saddle with malabar spinach and salted blackberry, served with shank and hominy with tarragon. A palate cleanser of tallow with sorrel was the perfect segue to dessert that included pawpaw from Maynard’s ranch.
Maynard hopes this is just the start of awareness about the benefits of alpaca throughout its entire lifespan.
“When folks ask, ‘why alpacas?,’ I’ve found myself rotating between three responses: I’m weird, divine intervention, and alpacas are awesome,” she beamed.
Raising her animals for their fiber first, food is a tasty and nutritious secondary benefit. Maynard’s farm-to-table dinner included an alpaca fiber fashion show, and it helped raise funds for the Farmer Veteran Coalition. Maynard, Homegrown by Heroes producer and an Air Force reservist, spent many years of her life flying around the world as a federal investigator and hopes to help other military veteran farmers.